EHL’s new Customer Experience Management Institute: Prioritizing customer-centricity and service excellence
By Alessandro Inversini, Associate Professor in Marketing at Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL)
In September 2020, EHL launched a new research institute called the Institute of Customer Experience Management. The launch of the institute, along with its ambitious research program, is part of the strategic vision of the school which, through the creation of business/research institutes in different disciplines, is trying to advance academic knowledge serving the needs of the industry.
These industry needs, more than ever, hinge on the fundamental premise of putting the customer first and of closely analyzing the changes in customer wants and behaviours. This subsequently has a significant impact on the way we deliver Service Excellence training at EHL.
Why does EHL need a Customer Experience Management institute? Why now?
1. Hospitality is trespassing on all service industries
Since my arrival at EHL a few years ago, I was deeply impressed by the school's culture of constantly looking at guest satisfaction, or as marketeers would like to say, "customer satisfaction". This is a positive obsession that is shared by everyone at EHL. Staff and students are truly, deeply passionate about what is outside us, or in other words 'the other'. The urge to really understand who is in front of you and the need of establishing a meaningful connection has been something that hit me deeply these past few years. It can be summarized as a quest for the happiness of the other. For me, this is the essence of hospitality. It is hospitality in practice.
What's more, the concept of hospitality is evolving. Industry leaders are recognizing that both the hard and soft skills related to hospitality are nowadays essential to deliver any form of service excellence. Independently of the industry in which a company operates, meaningful experiences and long-lasting customer relationships are becoming the critical competitive edge which can no longer be neglected.
Hospitality skills are therefore desperately needed to support this as, de facto, hospitality is pervasive across the service industry and across all customer-facing functions. Therefore, thinking about hospitality only as an accommodation-related business is reductive. Prioritizing the customer should permeate all businesses and inform, support and guide the decisions of every company unit towards success. In every industry, at every level.
2. The realization of the promises of servitization
Servitization is becoming a reality. Many goods-centered companies that developed their competitive advantage on internal resources built over time, are now looking at completing their offering with services for the end consumer. This enables financial resilience and opportunities for growth by working on differential value co-creation. In fact, regardless of what they produce or sell, companies are starting to consider a strategic transition focusing on leveraging resources and competences dedicated to the customer's relationships, needs and wants.
Servitization taps into this trend. It is about caring for your customer and enhancing a very good product with services that will support, enhance, and to some extent, transform the customer experience. Services are gaining traction as competitive edge for most businesses which previously relied only on the quality of their goods offering.
This customer-centered focus should not be only 'cosmetic'. To realize the full promise of servitization, companies should enhance their focus re-organizing priorities and resources towards generating not only information, but also knowledge and prescriptive analytics based on a thorough understanding of the customers. In other word, it is paramount for firms to go through a deep transformation and revision of their business to put the customers along with the service they need at the center of their concern.
3. Value sits with the customer
This customer-centric attitude will shift value creation from the actual tangible good towards meaningful, long-lasting relationships with customers. Value is no longer static and product-centered; it needs to be co-created with customers in a significant, dynamic and long-lasting encounter. The 'service-side' of a product offering can be considered as the most important indicator for the success of a company. Customers will stick with a given product, will become loyal and eventually advocate it if the company shows a real passion for them and the willingness to co-create value with each and every one of them. The more progressive a company is these days, the more it will focus on this value creation mechanism to foster relationships with actual customers and develop 'reasons why' to be chosen among a wide product base by a wider customer base.
Therefore, it is paramount for businesses to keep developing very good products side by side with very good services, both to enhance their products and co-create customer value. Within this scenario it is clear that hospitality skills in a servitization environment are key to support company-customer value co-creation.
The Institute of Customer Experience Management (ICEM)
EHL taps into the generalized need of the industry to develop meaningful long-lasting relationship with customers that are of mutual value. This is why the ICEM will not focus its activities only on the hospitality field, but will actively look to make an impact in the wider service industry and in goods-centric industries. ICEM's mission is to is to deliver high level, rigorous and peer reviewed research, contributing practice and theory to support the creation of competitive advantage in the industry.
Our purpose at ICEM is to foster a customer-centric transformation acting upon what EHL teaches better than anyone else: Prioritizing the focus on and the happiness of the customer. A mission statement that serves the student, the industry and the customer.
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